Most likely everyone knows what polyester is. But what exactly is it other than a type of fabric used for soft and comfortable bedding? Where did it come from, how long has it been around and who discovered it?
We all know the advantages of polyester. It is hypoallergenic and a huge asset in bedding material for those who suffer from allergies. And many times it is also wrinkle resistant. So it is also easy to care for and keep looking fresh in our over-busy society where we are looking for products that can be kept nice looking without a lot of time and effort – labor-saving products wherever we can find them.
Not only is it used as a fabric for clothing, it is also used as bedding fabric in sheets, blankets, upholstery and also used as cushioning in decorative pillows and bed pillows, down alternative comforters, as well as other padding.
Fabrics of polyester material are highly stain resistant and for that reason have to be dyed with what is called dispersed dyes. These dyes are water insoluble and are the smallest molecules found in any dye and are the only dyes that can be used effectively. Polyester has properties of strength as well as water resistance and wind resistance qualities.
In 1941 the first patent was issued for a polyester fiber initially named Terylene or Dacron. Nylon fabric was a precursor but was inferior in resilience and toughness. So in the late 1930’s there was an interest to find new synthetic material to exceed the qualities of nylon. Thus emerged the new Dacron material.
John Rex Whinfield was a British chemist born in 1901. He had been an assistant to Charles Cross and Edward Bevan who had earlier worked with viscose rayon in 1892. And in 1924 he began working for Calico Printers Association in Manchester, England as a research chemist.
Whinfield began searching for other alternatives to nylon along with his assistant, James Tennant Dickson, late in the 1930’s. They discovered a way to blend ethylene glythol and terephthalic acid and condense them down to make this new material that could be turned into fibers. They patented their new find in 1941, but there was a war going on at the time and their patent wasn’t made public until 1946 because of secrecy wartime restrictions. For the work of Whinfield, the University of York has honored him by naming their library in their Department of Chemistry after him in his memory.
After his patent, ICI later took off with their own version of the Terylene, and Dupont with their own version of Dacron. It has opened up a wide range of new ideas and products for manufacturing that has triggered the imagination of people all over the world. With new discoveries in waterproofing properties, it has now expanded to the production of bottles, plastic transparent wrap, high quality wood finish that seals the grain and gives a high sheen, and many other products.
So it has turned out that Whinfield has opened up a whole new realm of discovery in his quest for a better fabric. The world has found multiple spin-off uses from this synthetic polyester fabric.